Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Songs of Frogs and Toads
Nature Bulletin No. 262-A   March 25, 1967
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Richard B. Ogilvie, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

A red letter day on the calendar, each year, is when the first cricket frog is heard, or the first spring peeper -- "some prophet bolder than all the rest", Soon he is joined by others of his own kind, and then by other kinds until, in May, "there is a shrill musical uproar in every marsh and bog in the land". To the native of river bottomlands and marshes, or a countryside with prairie ponds and woodland pools, there is no sweeter music than the choruses of frogs and toads in spring. On warm nights, on rainy or cloudy days, even in bright sunlight, they join in an off-key clamor until the air fairly throbs with sound.

In the United States we have almost a hundred different sorts of these amphibian performers; each singing his own distinctive solo; each announcing to the laggard females of his kind that "Spring is here!" Their calls are difficult to describe or compare with other sounds. They may cheep like baby chicks, rattle like marbles in a tin can, trill like birds, quack like ducks, mew like cats, bark like dogs, bellow like a bull, or snore like a man -- according to the species.

The distinctive mating call of the male usually is made by pushing air out of the lungs into the mouth and, from there, through an opening on each side of the tongue to inflate the balloon-like sac or sacs which serve as a resonator. This gives more volume to the sound which is made by the air passing over vocal cords in the throat, As the animal rhythmically pumps away, the throat sac swells and collapses like a toy balloon, or like a wad of bubble-gum from the mouth of a small boy. Some kinds have a sac on either side of the head. With some, like the Gopher Frog, the whole body swells. This singing is always done with the mouth closed and some kinds, notably the pickerel frog, can even croak under water. In general, all male frogs have voices but, in some kinds, the females can "talk", squawk or scream. Almost any frog can squeal or give a "mercy" cry if seized or frightened.

Around Chicago in March, soon after the ice is gone, the inch-long Cricket Frogs come out of hibernation and chirp by the hundreds and thousands in lakes, ponds and pools. Their chorus is a crackling rattle like a multitude of those metal "crickets" that come as prizes in boxes of crackerjack, and halts abruptly at the least sign of danger.

The Tiny Spring Peepers usually appear a little later and reach full voice after the water has warmed above 50 degrees F. Its call is a series of 20 or 30 shrill whistles pitched about two octaves above middle C, The Wood Frogs gather in woodland pools where the males each make a series of 2 to 6 short snappy "clacks" which, in a group, sound like ducks quacking. The Green Frog gives a single "Tchung" or 3 to 6 deep notes like the plucked strings of a bass vial. The Pickerel Frog has a gentle musical "snore", often made under water. The Leopard Frog utters a long quavering guttural note followed by a few short grunts. The deep bass roar of the Bullfrog, not heard until late May or June, has been described as saying "jug-o'-rum, jug-o'-rum", or "belly deep, belly deep", according to the listener's fancy.

Toads, too, sing love songs after they leave their winter burrows and congregate in ponds to breed. The common American Toads, in late April or May, form choruses of long-sustained high-pitched trills. Later, the doleful nasal screech of Fowler's Toad can be heard. Most musical of all is the little Tree Frog or Tree Toad, gray or green with orange thighs. Their melodious trills, from the tree tops, are often mistaken for the songs of birds.

Clackety clack! Peep, peep! Glug, glug! Alleluia!

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